It's About Time

By Julia A. Jackson

Michael Eberle and Betty Palcsak, editors in the U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Division, offer basic advice for dealing with authors:

They’ve distilled these fundamental tips for editors from experience, articles and books on technical writing, and their survey of about three dozen USGS authors and editors in the Water Resources Division in the eastern United States. Mike reported their survey findings at the annual meeting during a panel discussion on the author-editor relationship. When we compared the survey responses with the 10 Commandments for authors and editors that I put forth in the last Blueline, we found a lot of overlap. That wasn’t surprising. What surprised and intrigued me about the survey results was the degree of overlap between the authors and editors responses. They’re put off and irritated by the same behaviors, and they offer many of the same suggestions for improving the author-editor relationship.

One common concern among authors and editors is timeliness (or the lack of it). Authors who don’t provide manuscripts at the agreed-upon date or time annoy editors, and editors who fail to deliver on agreed-upon dates and times annoy authors. Both groups advise editors to be sensitive to the author’s responsibilities and busy schedule and authors to be sensitive to the editor’s responsibilities and busy schedule.

Authors and editors share an aversion to superiority complexes. Editors resent condescending authors, who try to act smarter or holier than thou, and authors resent pompous or condescending editors, who write comments in a sarcastic tone. Both groups recommend that editors keep an open mind; don’t assume an “I’m right; you’re wrong” position and don’t nitpick. Back up edits with references to authoritative sources. Don’t edit by personal preference. If a passage is grammatically correct and follows organizational style, leave it alone.

Another recurrent response is the importance of communication between authors and editors. Both groups advise editors to communicate during the edit; call or speak with the author before, during, and/or right after review.

The editors and authors have two suggestions for authors:

The final common element in the responses is the admonition, “Remember that authors and editors need each other.” The number of identical points made by the 16 authors and 13 editors who completed the survey suggests that they share a common perspective. Working from that assumption may help each of us establish and maintain more effective author-editor partnerships.

Betty and Mike found many tips for improving author-editor relationships in articles and books on technical writing. Of the sources they consulted, these three contain the most substantial information on author-editor relationships:

Barnum, C.M., 1993. Working with people. In Barnum, C.M., and Carliner, S. (Eds.), Techniques for technical communicators: New York (Macmillan), 107–136.

Rude, C.S., 1991. Technical editing. Belmont, CA (Wadsworth), 338–354.

Speck, B.W., 1991. Editorial authority in the author-editor relationship. Technical Communication, 38(3):300–315. [This article includes 138 citations to other references, many of which are on the author-editor relationship.]

For additional information, please write or call Mike or Betty: Michael Eberle (; 614-469-5553, ext. 132). Betty B. Palcsak (; 614-469-5553. ext. 136).